History and Current Events: picks from our latest newsletter

Some selections from our January 2013 History and Current Events newsletter.

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Best names in a novel. Ever.

Cover: The Elephant Keepers' ChildrenDo you remember Danish author Peter Høeg’s hugely popular Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow? I’ve just finished reading his latest novel The Elephant Keepers’ Children and what a rollicking good read it turned out to be.

To begin with, let’s just settle the little matter of the title. No Elephants were harmed in the making of this book. The Keepers are a pastor and his organist wife, and it’s their Children who steal the show.

Peter and his sister Tilte have lost their parents, who have quite simply disappeared. Set in Denmark and translated from Danish, the story is narrated by Peter. The elephant in their parents’ room is that:

They want to know what God really is. That is what they live for.

Enter a cast of eccentric characters from almost every religion in the world as the two precocious children set out to rescue their parents, who in Peter’s own words are:

beyond the pale and have now ventured out into the field of miracles.

But it is over the naming of the characters that I want to throw down the gauntlet here: this novel has the most creatively named characters that I have encountered in an adult fiction book in a long, long time. Other than a smattering of Dickens characters and some of the names created in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy, this is the first time in ages that the names given to characters have made such an impact on me. They roll off the tongue and they beg to be said out loud; here’s a sample:

  • Alexander Beastly Flounderblood
  • Bishop Anaflabia Borderrud
  • Professor Thorkild Thorlacius-Claptrap
  • Leonora Ticklepalate (an expert in Information Technology!)
  • Einar Flogginfellow
  • Sinbad Al-Blablab

It made me wonder – were I a character in one of Peter Høeg’s books, what name would I be given? How about – Robertina Blogabit-Talkalot?

But here’s what I’m building up to: how important is the naming of characters in novels and have you got any great examples you’d like to share with us?

F.W. Dutch, 1902

I love this pic of a bearded gent on a bike. I’m not sure if it is Mr Dutch himself. Here is his photo Road making on Tramline [later Pages] Road, near New Brighton [1897].

There are a couple of 1898 photos by him on Digital NZ: The forge at Addington railway workshops and Addington blacksmith shop. In 1906, he produced this postcard  N.Z.International Exhibition, 1906-7. No. 6 – Wonderland.

Read more about Francis William Dutch in a post at Early New Zealand photographers and their successors.

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We have digitised a rather splendid 1902 publication Tourists’ guide to Canterbury.

I will share some of the interesting ads and pictures from it in a series of posts – there’s lots of information about local businesses and places in 1902.